We Americans love our guns but our guns don't love us back, even though gun shops outnumber grocery stores in the United States by nearly 15,000.
You want to talk about the Second Amendment to the Constitution? The Second Amendment says, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." That Amendment was included because the brand new United States of America had just whupped the Big Dog in Europe, England, but there was no guarantee she would stay whupped. Farmers and merchants and coppersmiths had to be ready to defend the new country.
But some of the writers of the Constitution who saw a potential problem with this Amendment proposed on September 9, 1789, that the Amendment should include the words "for the common defense" next to the words "bear arms." That proposal was defeated. According to an essay by John Paul Stevens, associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, published in the the Washington Post in April 2014, five words similar to the defeated proposal ("when serving in the militia") would make the Second Amendment adhere more closely to what we think the Founders intended when they insisted on the right to bear arms.
Five words in place of 30 murders a day? I could get behind that.
Some gun proponents say that if more good guys carried guns, they could stop the bad guys. But that isn't true, according to Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin. In an article in Mother Jones, Hargarten says that armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed.
The Second Amendment isn't going away. Guns aren't going away. So how about we consider going in the same direction as other civilized nations that have decided a person needs more than a trigger finger to own a gun? How about stricter laws concerning who gets to own a gun? Even a majority of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support that.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, 84% of gun-owners and 74% of NRA members support universal background checks for all gun sales; 76% of gun-owners and 62% of NRA members support prohibiting gun ownership for 10 years after a person has been convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order; and 71% of gun-owners and 70% of NRA members support a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for a person convicted of selling a gun to someone who cannot legally have a gun.
Laws that are more restrictive would be particularly helpful since nearly 80 percent of the killers in the Mother Jones investigation obtained their weapons legally. What might happen if we tightened our rules?
Guns aren't illegal in Australia, but you can’t own a semi-automatic rifle or a semi-automatic or pump-action shotgun. Gun ownership has been tightly restricted for the last 20 years. Since the laws were changed in 1996, Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting and firearms-related deaths have plummeted. In that time, the United states has had 52 mass shootings with 408 dead.
In Japan, citizens are permitted to possess firearms for hunting and sport shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure. To get a gun in Japan, you have to attend an all-day once-a-month class and pass a written test—and you have to repeat the class and pass the test every three years. You must take and pass a shooting range class. You must take and pass a mental test and a drug test, which you'll file with the police. You must pass a background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups. Once you get your gun in Japan, you must provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. Once a year, the police will inspect your gun. Do strict measures like this make a difference in gun violence? In 2006, Japan experienced two firearm-related homicides; in 2008 there were 11—compared to 12,000 in the United States the same year.
Guns aren't illegal in England or Scotland, but after mass shootings in the late '80s and '90s, the U.K. in 1997 banned semi-automatic and pump-action firearms, introduced mandatory registration for shotgun owners, and banned private handgun ownership in mainland Britain. The government launched a $200 million buyback program, which led to the collection of 162,000 firearms. By 2010–11, gun crime had decreased by 53 percent.
A Swede who wants to own a gun needs a license. To get one, he must be 18. He must be a member of an approved shooting club for at least six months or have passed a hunting examination. Gun deaths in Sweden are 1.47 per 100,000 per year compared with 10.64 per 100,000 here.
Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. Switzerland ranks fourth after the U.S, Yemen, and Serbia in the number of guns per capita. Every Swiss man of fighting age is issued a gun so he can defend his country. But to keep his gun after military service, a Swiss citizen needs a weapon acquisition permit, issued by the police. He can’t get the permit if he has a criminal record, an addiction, or a psychiatric problem. Heavy machine guns and automatic weapons are banned, as are silencers. If a Swiss man wants to carry a gun in public, he needs a permit, which he’s likely to get only if he works in security—and only if he’s passed theoretical and practical exams. Yet the violent-crime rate is low in Switzerland: government figures show about 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. Why? For one thing, the gun culture there emphasizes responsibility and safety. Kids as young as 12 belong to gun groups. In addition, Switzerland’s gun ownership is deeply rooted in the country’s tiny size: the Swiss see it as their patriotic duty to be able to fight their way to their regiment’s assembly point because an enemy could invade the country quickly. The Swiss see gun ownership as a duty rather than as an inalienable right.
You get the picture. Other countries handle gun laws differently. The United States isn’t as violent as some countries in central America where drug cartels operate or Africa where countries are ravaged by civil wars—but isn't it shameful to even be making that comparison?
Pry your gun from your cold, dead hands? Nobody wants that. We just want lunatics to stop killing college students and children. Mmmkay? Can we agree on that?
For an overview of gun ownership laws, go here. For a chart of gun-related deaths country by country, go here. For articles on both sides of the gun control issue, go here.